MUSI 112: Listening to Music
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MUSI 112 - Lecture 12 - Guest Conductor: Saybrook Orchestra
Chapter 1. Introduction [00:00:00]
Professor Craig Wright: Let us begin, please. Today should be a fun day for us. We’ve got some visitors and it’s always [so] — this particular exercise is one of the ones that I enjoy most in this course because we get to talk with real performers and find out what’s in their head when they perform a concert for us. So our aim today is to continue along this path to make you, in this case, educated critics so that you can go to a concert of classical music and you’ll be able to engage it in a productive sort of way — in an educated way.
Now there are lots of things we could think about in terms of “do’s” and “don’t’s” when we evaluate material musically in a critical fashion, and we’re going to be going through some of those in section starting this evening. And we’ll have a big, long list of, “this is what you put in a review and it’s probably not so good to put this in a review.” But, generally speaking, when you go to a concert and you review it — whether you do it just for yourself or whether you review it and then write down your thoughts and publish them as a published review — you do the following.
You’re essentially reviewing the performance. How well did the performance go? How did the players do? You’re not engaging who the composer is. You’re not engaging when the piece was written, the history of the piece, the historical context. You’re not engaging even — oddly — the meaning of the piece. Now on our concert for Saturday night we have three pieces: one by Mozart, one by Brahms and one by Beethoven.
What’s the meaning of the Mozart, the opening piece? Well, the meaning there is its function, in a sense. It’s trying to get the concert going. Originally, of course, it was trying to get the opera going. Oddly, the music there in the overture has nothing to do specifically with the music in the opera. There’s no music in the opera that’s also used in the overture. But it does have a lot to do psychologically, because it’s a very intense, compressed overture and the opera itself — if you begin to study that and the way he’s linking scenes and the way he’s moving his harmonic progressions along — it’s also a very compressed, intense opera. So some of the psychological state of the opera is encapsulated in that opening overture, but that overture can open other things as well. So there the meaning of the Mozart, in essence, is the function of the piece — to get people in, to get them quiet, to get them focused, and to give them a heads up, in a way, as to the psychological import of the opera that’s to follow.
Now we have also the Beethoven, the “Pastoral Symphony” of Beethoven. What do you suppose the meaning of that is? Pretty straightforward. Anybody want to take a crack at it? Anybody know anything about the “Pastoral Symphony” of Beethoven? What would you guess? What’s it sound like? Does it sound like a train wreck? Does it sound like midtown Manhattan? Elizabeth.
Student: The countryside?
Chapter 2. Writing a Concert Review [00:03:53]
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah, the countryside — a kind of leisurely embrace of the countryside — maybe a walk through the woods on a beautiful spring day, that kind of thing. And each of the moments — movements — plays this out in a different way — sort of an introduction, then an introduction to the birds of the forest in the second movement, a peasant romp in the third movement, a storm gathers in the fourth movement. That — we have an extra movement in this particular symphony because we’ve got Beethoven writing a bit of pictorial music here in the form of a fourth movement that’s a storm — and then a hymn of thanksgiving that plays out in, basically, a rondo-variation form there at the end. So that’s the meaning of that — how an individual might embrace the countryside.
What’s the meaning of the Brahms? Well, we’ve got these variations and they’re simply sonic patterns. And we have patterns, I suppose, in lots of different art. Think of abstract patterns in de Kooning paintings or Jackson Pollock. We have a beautiful Jackson Pollock over in the Yale Art Gallery. Well, that’s just sort of abstraction, visual abstraction. Well, you can have sonic abstractions as well. I was talking with our conductor — whom we’ll introduce in a moment — yesterday about this. What’s the meaning of the Brahms — or, he got to this in a different sort of way, and maybe I won’t let the cat out of the bag with that — but it seems to me that what we’ve got here is an individual — or an experience in which we are — we have the same frame of reference, the same context, in other words the theme, but we’re going to engage it in six or seven really different ways.
And think of all the times in your life where you may go in to the same context. You may go into your dorm room and you’ve had a terrible day and you’re furious and you’re storming around, or you’ve had a very pleasant day or as — it’s been a rather revenue-neutral day in terms of your emotional content, so maybe it’s not particularly moving one way or the other. You can have the same item that you engage intellectually or psychologically in radically different ways. So this is the same item played out in rather radically different ways musically in this theme and variation set, and we’ll say more about that later. But generally — oddly — you don’t write about these kind of things when you write a review.
What you’re writing about, again, is how well they played the piece — only if they play it in a way that seems to subvert the meaning as you perceive it — the meaning of the piece — is — does the performance really impact on the meaning of the piece then you might say, “well, this performance was not successful because, as I say, it countermanded or subverted what is the meaning of this particular piece,” as you the listener perceive that to be. Oddly, also you don’t talk about the form in the pieces. We’ve been spending all this time on form. Form is a way of getting in there so we can follow along intelligently what’s happening in these compositions, but we don’t write a review and say — in which we say, “the orchestra started out, and we engaged the first theme and then we had a fine transition, it went to the second theme, and I really liked that closing theme; it had a lot of harmonic bang to it.” We don’t want to sort of be led by the nose, if you will, through the form of the piece, but we’ll be saying a lot more about this in section — and, as I say, we’ll have another — yet another sheet to hand to you.
It helps, when you go to a concert, to know a little something about the composer. Right? What do you know about Beethoven? What do you think of when you think of Beethoven? Yes.
Student: The pinnacle of all music.
Professor Craig Wright: The pinnacle of all music. Okay, good. That’s an interesting way of putting it, and actually even if you look at this textbook that you’re using there you’ve got this — you’ve got an entire long chapter devoted just to Beethoven there. And when people write history books, Beethoven is kind of the lynchpin. You work up to Beethoven and then you work away from Beethoven. So Beethoven for the nineteenth century was an icon — was the pinnacle of what the artist was supposed to be like. But it’s not just the musical artist. Beethoven represented more than that.
Was he a neat and tidy guy? Was he sort of uptight guy? Did he wear a necktie and look sort of constrained in the appropriate system of the day? I’m the ultimate corporate guy, right? Was Beethoven the ultimate corporate guy? No. What did he look like? He looked like the prototype of the genius.
And on the basis of how Beethoven looked and how Beethoven acted, people then began to build this concept of the genius in the nineteenth century. Beethoven was the building block for this whole idea about what a genius was — how he was supposed to behave, how he was not necessarily to be held to the same standards as the rest of humanity in terms of his behavior to other people. If necessary to be dishonest, be dishonest. He — Beethoven wasn’t necessarily dishonest. Sometimes Richard Wagner was but it was excused because he was a genius. Well, this sort of idea begins with Beethoven here in the nineteenth century.
What did Beethoven write? Well, as you can see on your sheet there — everybody pick up your sheet? I think I’ve got — I find it useful to do this from time to time, just sort of the basic Beethoven, if you will, and a list of things — if you want to buy particular pieces or you want to explore a particular repertoire of Beethoven, well, you can do it in this fashion. So there is what we need to know about Beethoven on that particular sheet. Brahms we talked about. We talked about his pieces. Mozart we will be talking a lot more about as time goes on.
Now we have — let’s turn to our big sheet here. What are you going to do with this big sheet? Isn’t that — you could do a couple of things with that big sheet. An energetic student might want to go out and go to iTunes and do what and before the concert?
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah, get the pieces ahead of time for ninety-nine cents — except with the Beethoven. Why would the Beethoven cost more?
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah, you got to pay for each of the movements. [laughs] That’s the way they sell the stuff to you, and, once again, they’ll call them songs. Right? Each of —
Professor Craig Wright: I beg your pardon. And you can go to the music library because Lynda has been kind enough to put all of these on reserve for — all these pieces on reserve for us also. So you have this big sheet and you can take this — you can engage this material ahead of time with the pieces. We don’t have any of these pieces on our CDs. There are thousands of — zillions of classical pieces of music. We can’t put them all on our CDs. We have Beethoven’s — all of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for example but we don’t have the Sixth Symphony, but you can get it there on iTunes if you want to. And then you can follow along and ask yourself these questions as you’re listening to a recording before the concert. That would be a really serious type of preparation for this.
Failing that, you could simply bring this to the concert, and then follow along discreetly as the concert is going on and ask yourself these questions and maybe write on it. It’d probably be good if we didn’t have a hundred people going like this during the middle of the concert if we get on a change of piece or some change in movement so try to keep the — I’ve seen also students sit there with computers sort of taking notes during [the concert] — that’s a bit over the top it [laughs] it seems to me. So it’d be really neat somehow — what I do…
Actually, what do I do when this is going on? ‘Cause I have to read these reviews. Right? I’ve got to read them, so I’ve got to know, and the TAs have to know, what happened. What I do is I take my program and I do have a pencil there, and I take my program and I’ll write little notes on my program so that I can remember what the orchestra did at a particular spot, and generally speaking the sooner you write your review after a performance the better. So do you have questions about that? And we’ll be talking more a lot about that in section starting again this evening. Yes, Daniel.
Student: How long [inaudible]
Professor Craig Wright: How long do the reviews be? Five hundred words — two pages. A very good question. We’re going to hold you to that. So they’re not long but it forces you to think about what’s important and what’s not important when you write. Roger.
Professor Craig Wright: Basically, you’re writing about how well they perform. At the end of it, you could throw in a sentence or two to the effect that they met your expectations as to the meaning of this composition as the composer intended it or they did not, but I would not spend a lot of time engaging in the review the meaning of the piece, no. So what we’ll do — you’ve got the five pieces here and we’ll be going over some more of them in section and getting you up to speed in terms of the repertoire as time goes on. Any other questions before we introduce our first guest? Yes.
Student: If we have a comment to make on the tempo of the piece — if it’s too fast or too slow, is that our own interpretation, is that —
Professor Craig Wright: That’s to be encouraged. In other words, if you hear this opening overture going [sings] that’s way too slow. I’m not feeling compressed. I’m not feeling excited. I’m not feeling energized by that tempo. So you should say there that — “I think the tempo was too slow.” Yeah. It didn’t — the music didn’t have energy; it didn’t excite the listener because the initial tempo was too slow. Anything else?
Chapter 3. Rehearsing and Leading an Orchestra [00:13:45]
Well, if not, let’s go on to introduce our first guest and — Bradley Naylor. Here’s Bradley’s name up there. Bradley is the — come on up, Bradley. Bradley is the principal conductor for tomorrow night. And we will be listening to the Saybrook Orchestra. And the rest of our discussion today is basically between you and Bradley with me feeding Bradley questions. And I’m trying to think about the kinds of things that you might want to ask, but don’t hesitate to jump right — raise your hand and ask Bradley a question at any point. So Bradley, you’re a student at the School of Music. Right?
Bradley Naylor: That’s right.
Professor Craig Wright: And so tell us about your musical training. How did you get started here?
Bradley Naylor: I sang in choirs. Gosh, I was probably eight when I started singing in choirs but it wasn’t until middle school that I started getting serious. My middle school music teacher said, “Hey, Brad, why don’t you try out for this regional choir thing?” And I thought well, okay, I’ll submit a tape. Then I got there and here I was in this room of twenty-five fifteen-year-old tenors and they were all singing the same notes at the same time and I thought well, that’s just a miracle. And so I felt at that point I had really found what I wanted to do — went to high school, went to undergrad where I majored in music just down the road in Providence. And then I got a master’s degree in choral conducting at Indiana University out in the cornfields, and now I’m back in New England getting an MMA, a master of musical arts, in choral conducting at the Institute of Sacred Music.
Professor Craig Wright: So your preparation for this is a little bit unusual for most conductors because I think rarely, or only exceptionally, do you have people beginning in music through vocal music that come around [to orchestral]. Now you’re leading an orchestra here, so doesn’t that put you at something of a disadvantage? I would think to be an orchestral conductor it’d be really good to have started with the violin or maybe the French horn so you’re listening to intonation issues and things like that.
Bradley Naylor: Yeah. I would agree with that. I can’t — well, with the exception of maybe Robert Shaw, I can’t think of a single big-name conductor who started as a choral conductor and now is in charge of a major symphony orchestra. The vast majority of them are either string players, keyboard players — a few wind or brass players here and there — but I’ve done a few things to try and supplement that perceived lack of knowledge. When I was an undergrad I took an orchestration class to try and get a sense of what the capabilities and limitations of all the instruments were. A couple summers ago I spent a month at Bard College in New York at an instrumental conducting workshop, where I worked with various conductors. So I tried to supplement that initial choral leaning.
Professor Craig Wright: Uh huh. Uh huh. But what about piano now? I’m always surprised how good pianists these conductors are. So you must have had to practice piano, take piano —
Bradley Naylor: I do. I studied piano — I wouldn’t say extensively — but consistently throughout my young career —
Professor Craig Wright: Because you have to — in order to engage the music — and we’ll talk about this — you have to be able to do what with the score?
Bradley Naylor: I think you have to be able to play — or realize — the full score.
Professor Craig Wright: Right, so it might be the kind of thing — we would put a score with maybe twenty lines up there on the keyboard here and Bradley would be able to read through this and digest all these twenty lines at once, which doesn’t sound all that difficult, except a lot of these lines are not actually written — the notes that are written there are not the ones you play because they’re transposing instruments such as the B-flat clarinet and the B-flat trumpet so it’s really complicated.
Bradley Naylor: And in fact in this Brahms piece there are horn parts in E-flat, B-flat and C all at the same time.
Professor Craig Wright: That hurts. That would be like reading a text in four languages. One word is in Cyrillic alphabet and the next the Latin alphabet and next Hebrew alphabet so your mind has got very quickly to change [them] all — it’s really hard. It takes years and years of preparation. Well, what do you — what’s your goal here? What do you want to do with this and where do you want to be fifteen years from now?
Bradley Naylor: Oh, gosh. Well, I don’t know if there’s a white picket fence, but I would like to be teaching at a university, directing choruses, working on choral orchestral works like maybe Haydn’s Creation or something like that, a great piece from the same period as this Beethoven symphony. So — working at a university or a college level as well as maybe a professional chorus or orchestra.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Now here is a question for you. It might seem like a rude one but I get — it’s my class; I get to be rude if I want to. What makes you think you can do this better than anybody else? Who says that you get to be the boss here, the leader here? Isn’t that a bit of hubris on your part?
Bradley Naylor: I think that any conductor has a bit of hubris in him or her. I guess the short answer to that is that whenever I sit in a rehearsal I’m using my ears — whenever I sit in a rehearsal and I’m not conducting I’m using my ears to try and evaluate what’s coming back, and I always find myself forming an opinion. This could be louder; this could be softer; I want to hear that more than I want to hear this other thing. So the only place you can achieve that goal is if you’re in front of the ensemble.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. Oddly, that’s what they will be doing, though, when they go to this concert. You guys will be listening and saying, “Gee, I — why didn’t — I loved that flute line there. Why wasn’t that flute line louder?” So he’s kind of a critic, but he wants to apply his critical facility here to interpretation so that’s — to impose his concept of the music on others for the benefit of others, I —
Bradley Naylor: And the next week one of you can conduct it so —
Professor Craig Wright: Well, what do they have to have to conduct? What’s it take to be a good conductor, do you think? Just that you’ve got good insights in to the music? Well, I have I think just as good of insights in to the music as you do, Bradley, but I don’t think I would be any good as a conductor and I kind of know why. So what do you have to do, what do you have to have, to be a good conductor?
Bradley Naylor: I think it’s a varied skill set. I think — and don’t tell my colleagues I’m saying this — but I think at its basis, the conductor is really just a glorified traffic cop in certain ways.
Professor Craig Wright: Traffic cop?
Bradley Naylor: You have to make sure that there are no accidents. You don’t want the oboes to crash into the bassoons; nobody wants that. You have to make sure that people yield when they need to. If you need to hear the viola line, you’ve got to have the violins yield. And you just have to make sure that everyone gets to their locations without incident and in as fluid a way as possible.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. Okay. Good. Now here’s another component of this, though. I’ve heard of people talking about it in the terms, “Well, I have absolute rhythmic — sort of an absolute sense of rhythm. I can tell what a particular pulse is. I can identify that for you, and I can keep that, and that’s why I’m interested in becoming a conductor.” Or let’s say you’re conducting, and this is where I would always — I have done some conducting, used to conduct the Collegium here at Yale, but where I got in trouble was when something was out of tune I could hear “Hey, that doesn’t sound good,” but I couldn’t tell ‘em why, or what to do to make it sound right. My ear wasn’t good enough. So how good an ear do you have to be to be a conductor? How good of an ear do you have to have?
Bradley Naylor: I think you have an ear not just for pitch — particularly with an orchestra — but also for timbre, which is the property that distinguishes maybe an oboe sound from a clarinet sound. Of course, if you’re playing a piano, then [plays piano] you can’t change the timbre of a single piano note but if you’re playing it on a clarinet it’s going to sound very different than if you play it on a trumpet. So you have to be able to balance timbres. And I think before the downbeat of the first rehearsal a conductor really has to have the sound of the piece in his or her ear, so I know what needs to be pulled out. Maybe the third clarinet is a little bit sharp so I say, “Third clarinet, your B-flat — make sure it doesn’t sit too high.” So I think you have to have the piece in your head. There’s an old conductor’s mantra: “Always have the score in your head and not your head in the score,” so —
Professor Craig Wright: Well, okay. There are all kinds of things I could ask you about there. What are you going to do? Now you’re the principal conductor. You’re doing two of the three pieces. You’re doing the first half. You’re doing the Mozart and the Brahms and then Lauren Quigley will come out. She couldn’t be with us today, but Lauren Quigley will come out and lead the Beethoven. Are you going to try to conduct any of this without a score and what advantages and disadvantage — sometimes you go to concerts and a reviewer might notice that. Generally speaking, if you see a conductor conducting without a score, what does that indicate?
Bradley Naylor: Well, I think it’s always impressive to the ensemble when a conductor is able to conduct without a score. Last year Helmuth Rilling, who is a famous German conductor, came and worked with some of the ensembles and did Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which is a huge romantic oratorio about two and a half hours long. The dress rehearsal — He came to the dress rehearsal, put his score down on the music stand, conducted for three hours, never opened it, and we were like, “Wow, this guy knows the score.” So my task is to try to get four and half minutes of Mozart in to my head so I don’t have to open that score. We’ll see tomorrow if I am able to do it — but that’s my goal.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. So that sort of talent and sort of that’s a kind of combination of a photographic memory and a phonographic memory, that you’ve got to — you’ve got locked in there. You can hear something just once and it’s locked in there. That’s the kind of thing Mozart could do, and we’ll talk more about that later on, and — but so your orchestra will respect you more if you’ve got this all memorized. What does it sort of free you up to do then obviously if you’ve got- if you’re conducting without a score?
Bradley Naylor: Well, I think at its essence, conducting is communicating to the people in front of you, and anything that you can get out of the way between you and the people who are playing the music is an advantage. So I think getting the music stand out of the way, getting the score out of the way, making sure that at all times you can actually see the people who are making this music. I think anything you can do to do that is an advantage.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. Great. I want to go back to this question, though, of ear because I think it’s so critical. You were talking about the third clarinet and “don’t play too sharp.” Well, once again I’d be sitting there — “who’s playing what that’s wrong?” And I’m wondering are — is it the oboe maybe — instead of the clarinet being sharp, the oboe’s flat. All I hear is a problem. I don’t know what — where the problem is so — but — and so you would have to have a pretty keen sense of pitch. Do you have what we call absolute pitch?
Bradley Naylor: I don’t have absolute pitch. I have pretty good relative pitch.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. So I enjoy playing this particular game with musicians, and people generally, where we do an ear training drill, and I need somebody — is it Mike? I just need somebody to come up and play the piano, just bang some notes on the piano. Who — Daniel, you know your way around a keyboard. You’re a guitar player, so anybody play — the gentleman here. Come on up. Yeah. Okay. Come on up —
Bradley Naylor: So I’ll be where I can’t see the keys —
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. So we’re going to be over here and Adam, come play this game also, and Lynda, do you want to play this, down you go in terms of pitch? Your name is —
Professor Craig Wright: Rahul. So — and Jacob, come on out here also. Play — start around middle C and we’ll see if anybody can identify any — and Lynda, you don’t want to play? I’d like to have some ladies up here too. Santana, you come on up and play the name that pitch game. And we’ll talk about absolute pitch and we’ll talk about relative pitch. So play a note and we’ll see how we do. [plays piano]
Professor Craig Wright: Oh. That’s up. Well, can we play a note that’s a little lower? [plays piano] Okay. Does anyone think they know what the note is? But don’t — how — anybody up here think they know what it is?
Student: I would guess but [inaudible]
Professor Craig Wright: Bradley, do you think you know what it is?
Bradley Naylor: Yeah, but I have two guesses and whichever one I say it’s going to be wrong. I think it’s either G or G-sharp.
Professor Craig Wright: Well, what do you guys think?
Student: I would’ve said A-flat.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Okay. You notice how cagey I am here. I haven’t committed. Yeah. That — but just at the outset he played that initial pitch and then what did he do? He dropped it down an octave. Okay? So we think that that’s — that probably is an A-flat or a G-sharp. Is that correct?
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Now knowing that, play another pitch. Go ahead, Rob. [plays piano] Anybody know what that is? [laughter] So then the question is why is this guy teaching this course? [laughter] Right? [laughs] Why is he in this profession to begin with? Because he’s wrestled with this issue all his life and said, “Why me? Why can’t I do this?” and tried to figure it out, tried to use other tricks to get around this, to overcome this handicap and to hang around with musicians and sort of explain things that they do, that they take in sort of quickly and intuitively, and break them down and explain what it is that they’re doing. So at this point Bradley seems not to be having trouble with that pitch. I don’t know what it is — I could — G. Yeah. All right. All right. So I’m out, down I go, but what was that pitch?
Bradley Naylor: C-sharp.
Professor Craig Wright: C-sharp. Okay. All right. So let’s see — now knowing that that’s a C-sharp, let’s see how — let’s go — we’ll go a little faster here so we don’t take up too much — Another key. Who knows that? Bradley? Jacob? We should have him write it on there. Who doesn’t know what it is? Santana?
Student: Play it again.
Professor Craig Wright: Anybody know? What do you think it is?
Professor Craig Wright: What do you think it is?
Student: I’ll go with G.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. [laughter] All right. So — but what was it? Was it a G? Okay. So it seems to me that actually Bradley seems to be winning here. He — this is interesting. So maybe there is a reason that he’s the conductor here. The rest — I’m out. The rest of us are — they’re kind of negotiating with each other and maybe pegging off of what Bradley was saying there so we’ll stop this but —
Bradley Naylor: Well, and maybe I can just add the —
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. Okay. Thanks.
Bradley Naylor: For a person that doesn’t have absolute pitch like myself, whenever I do hear a note I think, “Well, what song does that start,” or is there a chord or a sonority with which I’m familiar that I know. For instance, so — do you mind if I just do a little bit of playing?
Professor Craig Wright: Sure.
Bradley Naylor: So for instance that first note [plays piano] was a G-sharp so I know that the first aria in Handel’s Messiah [plays piano] starts with a [plays piano] [inaudible] G-sharp in the melody and I kind of know how that sounds [plays piano] and that’s how I figured that was a G-sharp. The second note he played [plays piano] was a C-sharp or a D-flat. And there is this great Fauré piece [plays piano] that starts [plays piano] with this great D-flat so I kind of find a piece that I can latch onto.
Professor Craig Wright: That’s very interesting. In all the years I’ve been doing that, I haven’t heard that particular explanation for it. Most people that have absolute pitch, “boom,” they hear it instantaneously. There is someone in this room also who has absolute pitch, but I don’t want to go in to it. Instances of absolute pitch are about one in ten thousand, sort of instantaneous recognition. He’s getting that but in a different way. He must have some kind of absolute recollection of particular pieces that are intentionally impressed on his oral memory somehow and he then plays off of those. That — that’s an interesting way of doing it, but, as I say, it’s not something that I’ve encountered before. Okay. Well, and so that’s kind of important though. You got to have a good ear like that to be able to tell these people “you’re sharp” or flat. Now let’s say you’re in the middle of things and something goes wrong. You have a sense that your — you know that your clarinet is a little bit flat. What — well, you can’t just hold up a sign or an arrow going like this, can you? Maybe you can. How do you get, in real time — as the piece that you’re conducting and the piece is unfolding, how do you get somebody to correct something in terms of intonation?
Bradley Naylor: I think that there is a difference between what you do in a rehearsal and what you do in a performance. In a rehearsal, you’d say, “Hold up there.” The grand pause and say, “Clarinet there, fix that.” In a performance, you hope that you have inculcated in your performers a sense of pitch and a sense of what their function is in a chord, so that if something’s going wrong you just look at them and say, “Yes, you know you’re wrong. Fix it,” ‘cause you can’t stop. The traffic cop — if you don’t look at the Subaru over here he’s going to crash in to a tree so you have to take care of everybody — but the guy who’s running the stop sign, you have to take care of that person first.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. So let me ask you this. Oftentimes you go to a concert, particularly non-professional concerts. At the end of a movement they will stop and tune. If we hear in the Beethoven the tuning between movements, is that a sign that the intonation of the previous movement wasn’t all that it might have been?
Bradley Naylor: I think it’s a bigger problem with early instruments that are a little bit more temperamental, but certainly if we stop in the middle and you hear Gabriel Ellsworth give us a [sings] and we retune, then yes [plays piano] so that would be —
Professor Craig Wright: He really does have —
Bradley Naylor: I was just hearing the G-sharp from earlier and it’s a half step up. No problem. [laughs]
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. So there are some things that you can do in real time and things that you just hope that you’ve prepared for properly. But keep an eye on that — whether they actually tune between movements.
Chapter 4. Viola Excerpts from the Concert Program [00:32:27]
Now I think we have some other folks that are going to demonstrate some things here. I think we have Katie Dryden, a viola player or, the principal. Okay, Katie, come on up, and I don’t know if Elana Kagan is here or not. Is she here — flutist?
Student: I haven’t seen her —
Professor Craig Wright: Oh, my. Oh, my. Maybe she’s sleeping in. Oh, too bad. We’ll say that —
Bradley Naylor: I doubt it, knowing her.
Professor Craig Wright: What?
Bradley Naylor: I don’t think she slept in. [laughs]
Professor Craig Wright: I guess it’s only — maybe it’s only five after. So we do have — Let’s talk about the Mozart. We’ve got this opening piece. First of all, which piece of the two frightens you the most? You’re the conductor. What are you worried about? What scares you when you step out there?
Bradley Naylor: Uh huh. Well, what’s easy about the Mozart? Okay. No tempo changes. Fine, so the whole piece is in this — in the same tempo. Problem: If you don’t set the right tempo, you’re screwed for four and a half minutes. So what I do — [sings] I have to get that dead on so that the whole ensemble knows exactly what the tempo is.
Professor Craig Wright: Well, okay. Then, well, say you mess it up in the first couple of beats. Can’t you correct it?
Bradley Naylor: I think a good critic, as you will all be, would say, “Well, this is classical music, Mr. Naylor, and there’s nothing in the score that says rit or accelerando so actually you should keep whatever tempo is established at the beginning.”
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Yeah. So you’re not tempted to get out there and go “one, two, one, two, one two,” like that. And I’m always impressed when conductors they come out and they kind of look at the orchestra and they go — and they just start without much in the way of preliminary beats, but that’s kind of risky, isn’t it, and really dangerous? And —
Bradley Naylor: But I — one of my conducting teachers told me, you know, there’s no part in the score that’s labeled “conductor” so you shouldn’t do anything other than what’s going to get the people in front of you to play. So there’s no point in at the beginning going “One, two, three, four,” [sings] because then you have a conductor solo for two bars and it’s not in the score so —
Professor Craig Wright: So let’s see. Katie, come on up and do we have a stand for you? Did we not — well, I’m sure we got one inside here somewhere. Lynda, maybe our — Oh, no, no. Oh, you brought one? Okay. Well, get your stand out because we’ve got the beginning of the overture to The Marriage of Figaro here. Shall we play a CD of it or maybe we could — let’s talk about Lynda while — I tell you what. While Katie’s getting her stand let’s talk about Lynda. She’s got a bassoon part here. What happens at the beginning of this, Bradley, in terms of the texture: monophonic, homophonic, polyphonic?
Bradley Naylor: It’s monophonic.
Professor Craig Wright: Why?
Bradley Naylor: Because all of the instrument — there are many instruments playing but they’re all playing the same line at the same time.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. So — but isn’t that a little bit awkward? Because some of these instruments sort of speak a lot faster than other instruments. Fast — what would the fast-speaking instruments, that could play very agilely — what would they be?
Bradley Naylor: I think the violins probably have the easiest time of this, whereas the celli and the bassoon probably have the toughest time with this ‘cause it takes lower instruments longer for them to speak and make their sounds.
Professor Craig Wright: Uh huh. So the cellos and basses and the low part of the woodwinds that might have a difficult time here. So we — Lynda has been good enough to be a sacrificial lamb for today and bring in her bassoon, and she sent me an e-mail last night saying, “Oh, disaster. I cracked my only good reed and I’m not going to bring in — I can’t bring in my bassoon; it just won’t work.” So I said, “Come on. We’re really counting on this. Please bring in your bassoon.” So here is Lynda with a broken reed and — hi. Are you Elana?
Student: Yes, I am.
Professor Craig Wright: Okay. Come on up. Good. So just come on up and take out your flute and we’ll get out the music here in just a second. So let’s — can we have the beginning of the Figaro? Do you want to conduct this or no?
Bradley Naylor: Oh, heavens. This is chamber music at this point.
Professor Craig Wright: I see. Okay.
Bradley Naylor: How about I give you a tempo and then you guys go to town? Okay? I’ll give —
Professor Craig Wright: And again I thank Lynda for doing this because it’s not an ideal situation.
Bradley Naylor: All right. So here’s a safe conservative tempo, about [sings] that fast. One, two.
[music playing] [sings] Yeah. Cool. [music playing]
Professor Craig Wright: Wonderful. Bravo.
Yeah. This is great, the Music 112 orchestra. Now you said, “Well, here’s a conservative safe tempo.”
Bradley Naylor: Yeah, that’s a safe —
Professor Craig Wright: Well, what happens if you don’t take a safe tempo? What kind of disasters might befall us?
Bradley Naylor: Well, I think in this case there wouldn’t be a disaster. It just wouldn’t go as fast as I had set up so I have a recording of I think it’s James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra — the highest paid orchestra in the country — and they take this at a blistering tempo, [sings] really fast. Now we’ll see how close we can get. No. [laughter]
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. How fast you can take something sometimes is conditioned by the acoustical environment that you’re in, and maybe we’ll come back to that, about the acoustics of Battell a little bit later on. Now let’s see. Katie, you’re a violist and you’re the principal violist, and I wanted to ask you — your job is to kind of ride roughshod over the rest of the violas here and how do you do that? Isn’t that like herding rattlesnakes or something like that? Supposing you want to get your section to be really precise and really exact and all those bows going up and down at the same time, the articulation exactly the way they should be. How do you go — you lead by example, but in the actual performance how do you keep your — the rest of those violas with you, the principal?
Katie Dryden: Well, you have to be very confident about what you are playing and you can’t change your mind. So you need to know what — when you need to come in, what you need to be playing, which direction your bow is moving, and show that when you’re playing. It’s not by exaggerating, but just by being confident and so then the rest of the people know their parts very well but will — and follow off and will have that little bit of assurance when you come in.
Professor Craig Wright: Great. How do you know that they know their parts really well? What would you imagine might be a tipoff? And you’re at a concert and you’re watching, looking at what’s going on. What would be a tipoff that maybe they don’t know their parts really well? They’re sitting there with their nose in the music rather than watching the conductor. The more the orchestra is watching the conductor for the cues and the interpretation, the more that says hey, they’ve really got this almost committed to memory and they can get in — they can get beyond the notes into the question of interpretation there. Another thing, and just a very basic thing that Katie has mentioned here, is watching — she wants to have very prominent bow strokes, I guess, so that everybody — the whole section — will be in sync. If you see this kind of thing in terms of the bow movement, maybe the articulation really isn’t all together there. They should all — each of these sections should be going in pretty much the same way. Is that right?
Bradley Naylor: Yeah, and particularly with string instruments there’s a different sound with an up-bow as — in term — as opposed to a down-bow. So an up-bow will start very small. A down-bow you can start very gruffly. So it does make a difference.
Professor Craig Wright: So Katie, let me ask you this. Generally speaking, violists don’t have solos in the repertoire. So what’s the hardest thing for you to play there Saturday night? What scares you?
Katie Dryden: What scares me? Well, like you said, we don’t have solos but we are very important in that we kind of hold the upper and the lower strings and other parts of the orchestra together. And I think other sections get used to hearing us play certain parts and when we’re not there, they get lost. That’s not only true for violists. It’s true for pretty much everyone.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. That’s a good point. You’re kind of like the glue and particularly, I would imagine, rhythmically. I — if you — you might be setting — really setting the tempo and these other extremes, high and low, are playing off of the rhythmic tempo that you’re setting there in the middle. What’s the most — is there any moment that you sort of get to soar with some music that you like? Particularly, what’s your favorite moment, the most beautiful moment for you? Can you play a little of that moment?
Katie Dryden: Sure. In the Beethoven there’s a part in the last movement where we have the melody, finally. It takes a while to get there but we get there. [plays viola] And that’s kind of fun, that we get to play something that people recognize.
Professor Craig Wright: [laughs] Yeah. Well, I guess it’s like maybe the right guard or a left guard of a football team. Nobody ever notices, but they’re actually crucial to the overall running of this operation. Okay.
Chapter 5. Balancing Solos in the Performance and Conclusion [00:42:41]
Now we have also with us — thank you, Katie — we also have with us the principal flutist, right, Elana Kagan, and you’ve got some heavy-duty exposure particularly in the Beethoven in the second movement with all of those solos there. So here’s a question for Katie with — excuse me — Elana. With these solos that you have to play, do you ever get nervous?
Elana Kagan: [inaudible] Of course. [laughs] Definitely. I mean, when you really have a solo on your fingers and you don’t have to be nervous, it makes it even more fun, and you can always play better when you’re not so focused on that. So I certainly try to get beyond being nervous but there — it’s definitely there and the trickier it is, the more nervous I get.
Professor Craig Wright: Well, what happens to the playing when you get nervous? How can we recognize that you’re nervous? [laughter]
Elana Kagan: Hopefully you can’t, but a lot of times messing up is a sign of being nervous because there are a lot of players who will get it right every time in rehearsal and then just the night of the concert will —
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah, that was me. I always said I was the world’s greatest warm-up pianist, [laughs] and then you get to the moment you have to play and nerves kick in, the — just these little fractions of inches on these instruments is a question of life and death. So if your head isn’t all clear — you can imagine what a violinist would do if they would get this huge vibrato — where did this come from? [laughter] Okay. So let’s hear if we may, Elana, some of the lovely, lovely imitations of bird calls there in the second movement of the Beethoven. What would be good for you to play? Choose anything that you like. So this is Beethoven, second movement, theme and variations, and —
Elana Kagan: Well, there’s one part at the end that definitely sounds like —
Professor Craig Wright: Well, you had the interesting, I guess, duet with the clarinet, that sort of thing, or — is that what you were talking about toward the end?
Elana Kagan: The clarinet and the oboe. There is a lot of intricacies between the wind instruments — having conversations — so I can play a couple of those parts. [plays flute]
Professor Craig Wright: And then you’ll hear lots of cascading other woodwinds as Katie — excuse me — as Elana said with the oboe and the clarinet sort of dialoging against this. Intonation here — do you guys practice this individually? Do you have what we would call “sectionals” where you get together and work this out, or do you only do this with the full orchestra?
Elana Kagan: Well, we actually haven’t had sectionals. That’s certainly very common in orchestras — to have sectionals to work it out, but this semester we’ve mostly just worked on our own and as a full orchestra.
Professor Craig Wright: Uh huh. One of the — one thing — if instruments are out of tune, is it — Bradley, what do you think? Is it often the woodwinds that get out of tune?
Bradley Naylor: I think that — I don’t want to lay blame where it’s not due, but I think that sometimes it’s easier for instruments that you can press down a key and know more or less what the right support — what note’s going to come out, but if you have a string instrument with no frets — like a guitar has frets on its fingerboard, but violins and all the string family don’t — so that’s a little bit more guesswork so it’s really difficult especially in fast passage work like Katie was playing earlier to get a uniform intonation across the section.
Professor Craig Wright: Uh huh. So we have really only about two more minutes left and I’d like to make the following point. One of the things you should be on the lookout for is balance over there, and what the French horns are doing ‘cause this is a really exposed instrument, and they’re probably going to be up there on risers and that sound tends to blare forth in Battell so keep an eye out for the French horns. They’ll really be exposed. I have one other line of development here but I want to — before we go, does anybody out there have a question that you would like to ask Bradley or Katie or Elana? All right. Let me ask them this question. Where should we sit? What are the acoustical issues involved in Battell? Do we want to sit so we can see? And that’s not bad. You might say, “Hey, well, I’ll get way up in that — as far as I can and watch this intricate orchestra, this great, grand machine, firing on all cylinders here.” Or do we want to go all the way to the back and maybe just push away the visual and just enjoy the sound? Because oftentimes in concert halls the best sound is not up front; the sound is sailing right over your head. It’s coalescing in the back of the hall. So where should we sit?
Bradley Naylor: Well, my favorite place to sit in concerts is somewhere where I can see that interaction between the different, I guess, gears in the machine, as you put it. So I would sit somewhere not directly behind the conductor, so somewhere where you can see the players ‘cause they’re the ones actually making the music.
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. So if you want to go second balcony all the way down as far as you can go, you can actually get up in front of the conductor. You can be — almost be in the orchestra that way. Now what about the acoustics — the last issue here — the acoustics in Battell? Are they pretty good, favorable? Well, it doesn’t matter. Do you have trouble hearing?
Katie Dryden: Well, they are certainly different than the room we practice in, which is why we have a dress rehearsal so that we can adjust our sound according to the acoustics of the room that we’re playing in. But I think Battell is a lot more live, meaning that the sound sort of — it lives longer after —
Professor Craig Wright: Yeah. It’s resonant. It has a very long reverberation cycle. How do we cut [that] down? How can you help the orchestra? What would you guess? What would be the best way you could help the orchestra to bring clarity to their sound and actually allow them to play faster, get that tempo of the Mozart to go faster? If you’ve got a long reverberation cycle in a hall, your tempo will go slower. What can you do to help out here? Nadav, what do you think? What would you do?
Student: Wear a sweater.
Professor Craig Wright: Wear a sweater. Bring a teddy bear. Bring your friend. Bring your mother, grandmother. Bring as many people. Get as many sound-absorbing bodies in there as you possibly can. So we’ll see you then Saturday night, eight o’clock, and thanks to our guests.
[end of transcript]Back to Top
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